Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, November 29, 2009

At You: Zen and the Art of Sneezing

The Sneeze.

It is such a simple thing, so basic, and yet so enigmatic. Sounding as innocently absurd as the name of a Dr. Seuss creature, the word nevertheless conjures up all kinds of dreadful images of blustery embarrassment and flying bodily fluids. The term "olfactory orgasm" probably wouldn't have quite the same nuance.

This topic came to mind mainly because there is so much of it happening all around me these days. I've noticed that Japanese tend to sneeze in volleys. Indeed, the fact that I usually fire off one loud power sneeze instead of a barrage of shorts is yet another thing that sets me apart from the locals. Believe me, I've been doing my share.

The traditional English sound effect for a sneeze is "Achoo," or perhaps "Kerchoo!" The Japanese word is "Hakushon!" Frankly, I don't think either term is accurate. I rarely hear sneezes that sound anything like them. Most of the time it's only either a "Choo," or an "Atch!" There are also some pretty bizarre noises issuing from the nasal passages of some individuals:

  • I've always been both intrigued and irritated by people whose sneeze is a little, voiceless squeak, especially if it tends to follow a loud, passionate build-up. "Ah...AH...AHHH...AHHHHHH...chirp*" (Talk about anticlimactic!)
  • However, I prefer that to the person I knew in my university days whose sneeze was a high-pitched shriek. That was just plain disturbing (not to mention loud, nerve-grating, etc...).
  • When I first met my wife, she had a cute sort of, "Wash! Wash! " After we got married, however, it suddenly turned into a loud, sustained, "PFFFFFFFFFFT!" Now it's something like, "CHA-HA!" uttered at piercing volume. Never a dull moment!
  • Maybe interesting sneezes are an educator's thing. My father, who was also a teacher, has always had a sneeze that sounds like, "WOLvedasha," or something of the sort.
  • Then there was the respected teacher I used to work with at Kashima High School whose sneeze was, "Ba-SHEG! Ba-SHEG! "
  • Even that doesn't compare with my 6th grade reading teacher, whose standard sneeze routine was an entertaining, "Hup! Hup! Hup! Chiiiing! " (the last part of which had a nice vibrato).
  • Then of course we can't forget those comedic sorts who are fond of turning their sneezes into expletives. "Ah, S**T," is the obvious favorite (and rather satisfying, when you think about it). The Japanese, "Chiku-sho," (perhaps best translated as, "Damn it") also works well. However, I just can't get a handle on one ex-pat friend's habit of saying, "Ah, WHORE," when he sneezes. It just doesn't have the right level of explosiveness.
Whatever. As with certain other bodily functions, sneezing tends to feel pleasant and satisfying, yet we try very hard not to do it. Speaking of which, where did I put the Contac...?


  • Ah Ah Ah-Chuckle!

    By Anonymous Dave, at 2:34 AM  

  • I remember your Dad's sneezes. They always startled me, but they were cool.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 5:15 AM  

  • This reads like the sneeze version of Mary Poppins scene where Bert is describing the range of laugh expressions. I'm a "CHOOoooo!" kind of sneezer myself.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 3:22 PM  

  • In order not to startle the people around me with a sudden 'olfactory orgasm' (hehe..), I'd normally give a certain warning. I wish they would also do the same, but alas..

    Cute post, MM.

    Are you having the ahchoo's? Is it cold there already?

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 8:27 PM  

  • K always makes me laugh with her sneezes - a long silent build-up with a scrunched up face and a series of big deep breath climaxing a dainty little high pitched almost silent "choo"! To me it should rightfully be followed by "boop-oop-a-doop".

    (I'm much louder and more vocal and my sneezes are often without warning).

    word verif - "loblesc": an unemployed person with sinus trouble

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:16 PM  

  • don't even get me started about your sneezes...i remember watching one going all across the dashboard of my crv before a gig...holy cow you made it an art form! i wish i had an unabashed sneeze like that, everything going everywhere. a true sneeze from beginning to end. the only thing missing was my getting any pleasure out of it!
    he he!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:56 PM  

  • Moody, I never knew anyone so audibly attuned to sneeze differentials. That is one of the subtler arts, my friend.

    I wonder if a group of scientists did a longitudinal study of sneezers, before and after marriage, would they discover the "Honeymoon's Over Sneeze Phenomenon"? HOSP?

    By Blogger San, at 3:32 AM  

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